Saturday, March 27, 2010

Natural Gas Issues

Some honest information for you and your liberal friends:

AES corporation has been applying for all the permits and permissions
for a couple of years now
to build an LNG terminal on the site of
the old Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point, Baltimore Harbor.

Governor O'Malley, numerous Maryland politicians and pressure groups
have been trying to block this terminal construction for years.

5 years ago, after Katrina devastated wells in the GOM,
US gas supplies were dangerously low. Gas went over $15/therm.
Since then, however, new "unconventional" sources have been exploited
at a feverish rate. The current spot price of natural gas,
about $4.20 per million btu, is about 50 cents per gallon of gasoline equivalence,
the cheapest that it has been for almost ten years.
Future development in the Marcellus shale, in hydrofracking, and in coalbed methane pockets suggest that the east coast will have a plentiful supply for decades to come.

Me and my friends are thoroughly convinced that this terminal is meant to be
an EXPORT terminal, not import.
I'm sure you can understand the benefits
that the USA would receive for selling gas to western Europe.
This also includes their dependence on us and their future stability
and their independence from Russian gas, Gazprom, and the Ukraine pipeline issues.

There is a prevailing street myth that LNG terminals are dangerous.
Certainly all forms of energy involve some risk.
Do you believe that the people who tell you these stories really care about you?
Even if you only rely on a mule to plow your field,
there is always the chance that he will kick you in the keister.
However, there are numerous LNG terminals in operation all over the world,
including another in the State of Maryland,
and none have ever incurred any serious accidents.
In fact, natural gas is not prone to creating large explosions in the open air
because it will only burn when the percentage mixture of gas and oxygen is within
a very tight range.

On the other hand much of the "spring water" bottled water which we enjoy in the region,
which tastes so much better than city water,
originates from coalbed methane gas wells.
Who knows what other unintended benefits might come our way?

One of the strongest causes for the current economic crisis in the USA
is that we have virtually no products for the rest of the world.
The only things that we currently export
are suspicious Wall Street paper,
and Hollywood movies,
and all our miscellaneous and endless wars.
These do not win us friends, nor do they win us hard currency.

Building the terminal would make jobs.
Operating the terminal would make jobs.
Drilling for gas, building pipelines to the harbor, and selling it
would make jobs.
Heck, all of this activity would even generate new tax revenues!

That seems like a good thing, to me, right now.
Worth a little risk, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do You Think What You Think You Think?

Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom immediately seduced me with their second chapter (Who begins anything at the beginning, anymore?). “So you think you’re logical?” has four little puzzles or exercises, each one about two pages long but really pretty simple, logically. By the third one, I was getting a little antsy because the underlying logic was identical in each puzzle. The fourth repeated the pattern.

But the authors then astounded me by saying that only maybe one out of 4 or 5 people get the first and second puzzle right but the majority get the third and fourth one right. The differences are that the first and second present basically abstract situations involving cards, colors and shapes. However, the third and fourth puzzles involve situations more nearly parallel with real-word problems, such as beer drinking and surfing the Internet at work.

So the first thing that I got out of the chapter was a poignant reminder that, as someone who thinks logically and intelligently, I am in a small minority in the population. Its no wonder that so many people treat me as if I am different. I am.

I went back to the first chapter. It involved an exercise of agreeing or disagreeing with thirty “opinions” which most individuals in my culture in my day would be likely to have a clear prior judgment of agreement or disagreement. As it turns out, they are in pairs but shuffled, where one pair is a specific instance and the other a more general statement. Here’s an example:
14. “Judgments about works of art are purely a matter of individual taste."
25. "Michelangelo is one of history’s foremost artists."

Can you see how agreeing with both of those statements would be a near-contradiction? Out of fifteen so-called “tensions” I only selected one such contradiction and even there I was quibbling with the authors about how much leeway “more or less” gives to a truth sentence.

Once again, the authors found my consistency to be remarkable. Through extensive administering of the same little exercise to many different people in different circumstances, they have found that most peoples' opinions are terribly inconsistent, instead most people disagree with themselves most of the time!
Given the current state of affairs of my society, that's not hard to see.

From there, however, the book slogs into some pretty dense jungle. There is a chapter which attempts to help the reader pinpoint his definitions of God, what attributes and qualities God is supposed to have. But here the authors take a dramatic suspension of their quasi-logical approach to everything by the use of the pronoun “She” in reference to God. I fail to see a logical reason for using that pronoun and they never explain their use. Its only purpose seems to be for artistic or emotional effect and it seems completely contrary to everything I had read in the book up to that point.

I put the book down and reviewed again my remarkable recent discovery of the contributions and life of Kurt Godel (he was a 20th century mathematician who had as much impact on logic as his contemporary Einstein had on physics.) Ultimately what Godel contributed was a proof that any logical system had to be, by definition, incomplete and also capable of supporting statements which are internally inconsistent,
such as paradoxes. I got all the way through this book on logic and found the names of many famous logicians and philosophers cited as sources, but not Godels’ nor was there any hint that such “flaws” in the perfect world of logic as conceived by Hilbert and others, lay in wait for the unwary.

The next chapter was entitled “taboos”” Here again, I differ from a lot of people but I know that already. I practice “judge not lest ye be judged” far more than most people and I am less apt than most to hold universal moral judgments on particular behaviors taken out of context. Here, however, the authors went so far in their efforts to try to trip people up that they made a logic error of their own. In exercise three, part one mentions doing an “unnatural act” in complete secrecy and then part two, you learn about a society where members may perform such an act in equanimity. However, these two are not comparable in the way the authors try to represent, because doing something in complete secrecy is totally different from doing something for which you may be judged by your peers. The two cannot be compared or contrasted. I am quite, quite certain that there are all kinds of very strange goings on behind closed doors in my own culture among my own peers, that we don’t make moral statements about or judge each other about, because we simply do not know that they are happening. In fact, I have long supported the logical supposition that all of the people that I deal with on a frequent basis, as soon as they are out of my sight, earshot, and nose, turn into putrid green monsters traversing an environment totally askew to anything I have ever seen or imagined, only to return to their false front the next time they cross my path. And, that it makes no difference, either to me or to them, that this happens.

The most pronounced logical inconsistency of the authors' came up several times,
consisting of a cultural bias presumed by them to be a natural truth -- that
love will always act to eliminate or reduce suffering. In the universe where I find myself, suffering is a significant experience and it is a very necessary prelude
to changing behavior patterns and learning new ones. In my culture, in contemporary times, I see a mass insanity and one big contribution to it is this mistaken presumption, that eliminating or masking or hiding pain and suffering is always desirable, loving and morally correct. I see that nothing could be further from the truth. I see that the overwhelming reliance on addicting prescription pain medications is not beneficial to anyone. I find the insistence on "always being positive" by the management culture in my employment situation brings about incredibly absurd contortions on the part of nearly everyone which ultimately result in virtually no constructive work being accomplished by anyone. I further believe that the reduction or elimination or hiding of small pains and inconveniences throughout the culture will eventually result in the unleashing of massive suffering, perhaps on a scale as has never been seen before in history. And maybe that has already begun.

After getting that far I began to suspend my engagement with the book and devote some of my focus to critical reexamination. There are several more exercises. I came to stronger conclusions that the authors themselves are more trapped by their own cultures and idiosyncrasies than they have any idea about. One of my strongest objections came up in a section discussing belief in God. The authors' prose suggest that all beliefs in God are based either on evidence, on proof, or on “faith”. It never occurs to them that there are other possibilities. The generalization that “religion is the opium of the masses” should be well-known and understood. A lesser-known but powerful other alternative is that belief in God is functional; that is to say, it enables escape from arrogance without endangering dependence on other people or peoples. Such a purpose for belief in God is totally “outside the box” that the authors are in.

So, ultimately, I finished the book unsatisfied, thinking that the smug authors think more nearly like the illogical people that they seem to chide frequently, than they think like me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

God’s Way is the Safeway

The Holy Bible is rather like the supermarket, isn’t it.

Inside the covers, you will find whole chickens, chicken legs, chicken breasts, chicken tenders, chicken livers, canned chicken, chicken noodle soup, and chicken bouillon. You will find fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables, and vegetable juice. The one store serves literally thousands of different people, with thousands of different tastes. Some come in with a month’s list, some come in with a few ideas and a hunger, some come in just to grab something quick for lunch, and some may come in just to find someone else to flirt with.
There may be one or two things in that store that you have never tried, or only tried once. There might be anchovies, chitlins, beef liver and spam. There might be juice with artificial lemon flavoring or furniture polish with real lemon.
There might be other things in the store that you buy over and over again. When there is snow in the forecast, you can just about be certain that there will be no bread, milk or toilet paper left on the shelves.
There may be some people coming into the store who only buy the same three or four different products every time that they come in there, never venturing to sample anything else. They rub shoulders with other people who keep a great variety of edibles and ingredients in their sumptuous kitchens, and then eat out every night. It’s a safe guess
that the person who has tried every item in the whole store is a rare one indeed!
Most of us simply do not know how we could ever manage our lives without the supermarket. On the other hand, we might never, never, never buy brussel sprouts or prune juice. God help the people who do. Thanks Safeway that they are there for them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

God Knows

God Knows, many people would be offended by this book. God knows, any work of art worthy of any consideration, is greeted with outrage and effrontery as it upends everyone’s “comfortable values” and challenges the senses on multiple levels. I have not laughed so hard for many a day. God knows, people on the commuter train, in my office, even in the bathroom, were wondering what the heck was giving me so much fun.

Joseph Heller has taken a serious knowledge of the Old Testament, combined it with artifacts of history, art, music, and the lot of the modern Jewish boy, and produced a firsthand account of the life of David. He brings the characters alive, put flesh on their bones, color in their cheeks, and adds here and there a few blemishes, pot bellies, whines and cheese. The descriptions of Michal as the original Jewish American Princess and Abishag as so beauteous, patient kind, and insecure, really bring them to life. The descriptions of Saul’s melancholia and paranoia, and how David followed him down that same road in his later years, give an exquisite picture of what it really must mean to make it to the top of the heap in this world.

If you are the sort of person who revels in the discovery of a new word such as “assherd” to add to your regular usage, then I thoroughly recommend you check this out. Or, if you would like to review the stories that you learned in vacation bible school, told in such a way that the boys might escape to the john to read it amongst themselves, well, you know what to do. If you want to learn the extent of the hebrew empire under its greatest poet and military strategist, and then consider what has happened to every single nation which rises to become a world power, then this might be a very good review for you.